Chapter ThreeÂ Â Beth
Stuffing her magazine into her carry-on bag, Beth stood and walked to the counter, placing her passport in the outstretched hand of the air hostess. She turned her face slightly so that the other woman could not see her bruises. Though they were less noticeable than they had been a few days ago, she was still conscious of the curious looks of strangers. Handing back Beth’s passport the hostess wished her a pleasant flight.
Her head down, her mood somber, Beth walked cautiously down the steps to the waiting bus. Other travelers jostled for space in the bus, positioning themselves near the doors, ready for a fast disembarkment. Beth grimaced as an older woman dug an elbow in her back; she considered telling her that the plane would not take off without her and that an aisle seat is really not that important. Biting back the comment she shuffled further away, jolting backwards as the bus moved off. The bus driver was one of the accelerator to the floor when not stationary type of drivers and Beth clung onto a nearby pole to prevent a rough landing. Swearing under her breath, she shifted her grip on her carry-on bag as the bus slew to a halt at the aircraft.
Beth stood aside to let the manic passengers past and looked back at the airport. Alex would be on her way home by now. She had been upset when she left Beth at passport control, but pretended that everything was great, that Beth was off on a great adventure. She had barely left Beth’s side since Friday evening, accompanying her to the hospital and police station to give their statements. The policewoman who had dealt with her case had been gentle and kind, but nothing could detract from the utter horror and incomprehension she still felt when she looked back at the events of that last evening in her apartment.
“Miss? We need you to get on the plane now”, the air hostess said gently, putting paid to the assumption that she had not noticed my bruises, Beth thought wryly.
A short time later, the plane taxied to the runway and Beth was glad that she had lingered on the tarmac. The only free seat was an aisle one and so she was spared the sight of her beloved London fading slowly into the clouds.
Blinking back tears, she thought about the past few days. She tried to concentrate on the positive moments. How her friends had rallied, how many supportive phone calls, text messages and emails she had received. And above all, the continuing care and love that Alex had given her. She had always known that Alex was a good friend, but the events of the weekend made her realize how much she would miss her.
The rattling of the trolley was a welcome distraction, â€œTea, coffee, snacksâ€¦ Can I get you anything, Miss?â€
Beth straightened her shoulders, â€œI donâ€™t suppose that you have champagne?â€
The air hostess smiled her approval. â€œWe do indeedâ€. She poured a glass of champagne and handed it to Beth.
Lifting the glass she sent a silent toast to Alex. â€œHere is to my new beginning, Alexâ€. Smiling, she relaxed back into her seat and unfolded her trashy gossip magazine.
As they came closer to Geneva, Beth almost regretted not fighting for a window seat. Peering past the hand-holding couple next to her, she could see the Alps in the distance. As the plane circled over Lake Geneva, she glimpsed the famous Jet dâ€™Eau fountain shooting out of the lake. A feeling of excitement filled her, she was really here. She now lived in Geneva.
Exiting the airport with the keys to her hire car in her hands, Beth looked around for the car park. The sun shone in her eyes, blinding her. She fumbled in her bag for her sunglasses then finally noticed a sign for the hire car company.
â€œBonjour. Erm. Parlez vous Anglais?â€, she asked hesitantly.
â€œOui, Madame. I do. You have reserved a car?â€.
Sighing in relief, Beth handed over her contract. She could have spoken some French but for now it seemed easier to stick to English. Colleagues had told her that many of the locals spoke English, particularly those who worked in the tourist trade.
As she steered the car gingerly out of the car park, she had a moment of panic about driving on the wrong side of the road. Taking a deep breath she told herself not to be daft, she had driven in France on holiday before, it was no different. The GPS was programmed to direct her to her hotel where she would stay for several nights until her furniture arrived and her apartment was ready.
Switching on the radio, she opened the windows of the car to let the balmy early evening air flow through the car. She sang along with Lady Gaga as she stopped at a traffic light, looking around. The road seemed to be the main route into the city, four lanes split in the middle by a tram line. The tram whooshed past her, making her jump a little. According to her GPS she should go straight down then turn right at the next junction, but the road was blocked.
She spotted a â€œDeviationâ€ sign â€“ would that be â€œdiversionâ€, she wondered, growing slightly frantic. Following the sign she drove past the traffic light. Her GPS admonished her for failing to turn and suggested she should turn around when possible. There was no way she could turn around here. Taking the next right, she attempted to circle around. Her GPS suggested taking a left, but she was in the wrong lane. Indicating, she appealed to the other drives to let her change lanes. A cacophony of horns greeted this move, as she now blocked both lanes.
â€œShit. Shit. Shit. Sorry. Oh, for the love of God, will someone let me change lanesâ€, she wailed.
A gap opened in the traffic and she shot out to take advantage, slipping into the other lane and turning into the quieter street. She caught a glimpse of shimmering cobalt water at the end of the street before spotting the hotel. Hurrah. She had made it.
The underground parking garage was dark and cool. Beth took her sunglasses off and concentrated on maneuvering in the narrow lanes. Thanking her stars that she had hired a small car, she searched for a space close to the exit. She hurriedly retrieved her suitcases from the boot of the car and strode towards the exit, looking nervously over her shoulder. Her uneasiness annoyed her as she was normally a confident woman. The lift arrived and she hurried inside, breathing a sigh of relief as the lift moved slowly up to the ground floor.
The attractive blonde woman on the check-in desk spoke slightly accented English and smiled pleasantly while obviously trying not to stare at Bethâ€™s face. â€œIf there is anything that you need, Madame, please contact receptionâ€.
Beth needed peace and a stiff drink, but didnâ€™t like to say so she thanked the woman and gathered her belongings. A staff member appeared to assist her with her cases, to her great relief. He escorted her to her hotel room, but disappeared before she had finished her internal debate on whether to tip him. She couldnâ€™t remember if it was done here.
Sinking to the bed, exhausted by the emotional upheaval, she considered ordering a meal from room service and going to bed early, a notion that she would never have considered a week earlier. She crossed to the window and opened the curtains.
She had a room with a view! Suddenly seized by a urgency, she gave her hair a quick brush, reapplied her lipstick, snatched her key and headed out of the room.
Slipping her sunglasses on to protect from both the sun and inquisitive gazes, she headed down to the lake. The light reflected off the water, a boat glided past, tourists strolled by. There was a small beach bar further up the lakeside so Beth headed in that direction. It was still warm, the cardigan knotted around her waist as yet unneeded. Beth ordered a glass of Chasselas, the local wine, and looked around for a seat. This was a very informal bar, she noted, with only a few chairs and table, the bar consisting of two basic white kitchen units, with a couple of fridges under a straw roof. Many of the guests were sprawled on the grass behind the bar. Beth made her way to the low stone wall in front of the small harbour, where she sat and gazed out at the lake. She felt calm and rested, for the first time since Friday evening.
Sipping her wine she forgot about the police, the hospital, the counselor, the horror in her parentâ€™s eyes when they saw her on Saturday morning. She watched the waves caused by a passing boat lap against the shore, lulled by the gentle ebb and flow of a dozen different languages around her.
Tomorrow she would pick up the keys of her apartment and go into the office for the first time. She would not hide. She would not be afraid. Sliding her phone out of her pocket, she phoned Alex, â€œAre you ready to feel absolutely green with envy? Then I shall tell you where I am and what I am doingâ€¦â€